The Chalcedonian Definition -- By: Hans Boersma

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 54:1 (Spring 1992)
Article: The Chalcedonian Definition
Author: Hans Boersma


The Chalcedonian Definition*

Hans Boersma

* I express my appreciation to J. Faber for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

Barth’s relation to Chalcedon is a controversial one. While some portray Barth as fully in line with Chalcedonian Christology, others speak of eine radikale Umbildung or of an Umdeutung.1 Several avenues are open to come to a solution in this controversy. The most obvious one is to analyze Barth’s own explicit comments on Chalcedon. Simple as this solution may at first sight seem to be, it is by no means an effective one. Barth’s comments on Chalcedon do not form a unified or harmonious whole. On the one hand he rejects Chalcedon’s liberal critics and comments that “beyond these [ethical and physical] interests it had the supreme, comprehensive and therefore simple desire to regard Christ in the way in which it found Him attested in the New Testament as Lord of the complete man, as bringer of life to both sides of his existence, as the Reconciler of man’s being.”2 On the other hand Barth admits to having

“actualised” the doctrine of the incarnation3 and says that Chalcedon’s doctrinal decisions are guiding lines, not to be used “as stones for the construction of an abstract doctrine of His ‘person’.”4 These quotations do make clear that Barth indeed engages in some form of Umbildung of Chalcedon, even though the nature and extent are not immediately apparent. An analysis of Barth’s explicit comments on Chalcedon may be necessary, but it is by no means sufficient or even effective.

Other avenues that might lead to a correct understanding of the relationship between Barth and Chalcedon are to be found in a material comparison between the two. Such a comparison can begin with an analysis of Barth in which one goes on the assumption that Chalcedon defines the two natures in an essentially ontological manner.5 It is also possible to come to a comparison between Chalcedon and Barth by starting from the opposite angle, Chalcedon. Approaching the problem from this viewpoint means that one no longer takes for granted the hidden presupposition of the former approach, that Chalcedon gives an ontological definition of the two natures. Instead, the Barthian identification of act and being, of Christ’s person and his work, of his natures and his states, of ontology and redemption, are assumed.6

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